Retrofit Blog

Top Race Hacks for Starting a 5K

August 28, 2014

The sport of running continues to grow exponentially each year. It has become almost overwhelming to see race calendars growing so long. It often becomes quite difficult to choose which race to do, as opposed to having trouble finding a race to go run.

The business of running events is booming, especially the newer trend towards non-traditional races and running events. There are running events that are not simply competitions, but provide the opportunity to get mud or colored powder thrown on you, turning you into a dirty mess or a rainbow. There are races where you run from actors dressed as zombies. You can even choose running events that require you to run through electrified wires (although I am not suggesting that, of course.) The sport of running has become a big business and it's not slowing down anytime soon.

In 2013, statistics from RunningUSA show that the numbers of runners have skyrocketed to 19,025,000 finishers. The demographics of those more than 19 million runners were broken down into 57% female and 43% male.

While there are some runners who get nostalgic about the "good old days", where running was less about the design of the finisher's medal and more about the foot race, I am inclined to believe that we can have both types of runners in our sport. It is no longer an either/or scenario.

The truth is that we need more individuals to increase his or her daily activity levels, improve fitness and maintain the lifestyle beyond a short period to get to a single event and then stop. The benefits that running offers as a type of exercise are many, but here is a short list I have gathered from observing the runners I have coached: Running is a time-efficient activity for burning calories that requires little equipment and cost. It can be done anywhere, including from home, work, business travel and on vacation. Running can be very social - or not. (You can train with or alone and get the solitude you need). Running provides motivation to improve your health, self-confidence and mood by alleviating stress and tension.

This is just the short and most obvious list of benefits. But, the focus of this post is you. Consider the opportunity and adventure of becoming one of the more than 19 million individuals that will finish a running event this year.

And if you should choose to take on the challenge, here are a few guiding principles to follow so that running is not just a short-term goal you take on, but a lifelong commitment you make to yourself and your health.

1) Consistency Counts. At Retrofit, we use a mantra shared by Advisory Board Member Dawn Jackson Blatner, "Habit First, Effort Later". The reality is that no running program is going to be successful if you are only running once every couple weeks. I suggest individuals start with three days a week. The three days can simply include putting on your shoes and going out for ten to fifteen minutes. It is the regular act of starting the workout that is important as you get started.

2) Frequency First. Once you build up to three days a week of thirty minutes per workout, progress your program by adding a fourth day before you add more time to a single run or start to run harder during the workout.

3) Run/Walk EVERY run. I see individuals start a running program with the belief they need to run every step to make it count. This often leads to injured and discouraged runners. I coach all the runners I work with to use a run/walk program in some way - whether they have run 20 marathons or are just starting to run, Unless you are competing in an elite category, there is more benefit and less risk to working in some run/walk pattern into your training. This training method allows runners to continue progressing their running program in a safe and healthy manner. It sets up better recovery after the workout, teaches runners about optimal pacing strategies and allows runners to use ideal training intensities for the run segments of their workout.

4) Run More, Walk Less. If you start out running one minute and walking four minutes, then before you move beyond four 30-minute workouts each week, continue to decrease the walking recovery. This naturally increases the intensity of the workout, without adding more time or days to your schedule. You may start out only running four or five minutes of a 30-workout, but as you progress you will be running more and more of that 30 minutes.

5) Play a long game. Motivation to get out the door will come and go over time; therefore, it is critical that you remember your reason for participating. When you adhere to these guiding principles, they will allow you to progress towards improved health and fitness, but it is also inspirational to remind yourself why you are going out for a run. Create a mantra or use one that you have seen elsewhere, then get in the habit of saying it each day as you lace up your shoes. Mantras of positive affirmation or inspiration can be as simple as, "I am strong and healthy, which is why I run" or "Run strong, be happy".

While these five principles might seem simple, I can tell you from experience, they are effective. Several of the biggest mistakes I see beginning runners make are when they try to do too much too early in their training or when a runner loses sight of the value of these daily principles and only thinks about an event that will happen some day in the future.

As you scale your running journey, if you are asking yourself, "Should I start to run longer?", you can answer the question by reviewing these principles. If you have consistently completed four runs of 30 minutes over the past month, then it's probably a good sign you are ready. If the question you ask yourself is regarding your preparation for an event, ask, "Will I be ready?" Look back at these principles and review your training. Have you consistently completed three or four run workouts over the last eight weeks? Have you progressively decreased the walking recovery periods and increased the run intervals? Your answers to these questions will provide you with the push to get outside, find your pace, have some fun and improve your health.

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Gary Ditsch Retrofit Lead Exercise Physiologist

Gary is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, a Certified Personal Trainer and a Level 1 Triathlon coach. He holds a Masters of Science in Kinesiology and Health Promotion from the University of Kentucky. Gary loves motion. He lived on an airport as a kid, worked on a riverboat, and has ridden his bike across Iowa - just because.

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